This week’s episode of Game of Thrones, "The Broken Man," began with a rare cold open, a film industry term for a show that gets right to the action before the credits run. In the scene a septon, Brother Ray, and his meek followers are building a sept in a picturesque valley. Groups of three and four men carry logs for the structure, and then an enormous log carried by a single man comes into view. The man limps slightly, and when he puts the log down we see the disfigured face of the Hound. Larger revelations have not been given such treatment on the show, so the decision came as a bit of a surprise. Great to have Sandor Clegane back, nevertheless. Now if we can only reunite him with Arya for some banter about talkers and chickens. The Hound was not the only broken man in this episode, though. The show is replete with troubled souls.
After being banished from King’s Landing to do the king’s bidding in the hinterlands, Jaime rides into Riverrun with 8,000 Lannister soldiers and our old pal, Bronn. They call the Frey forces the most pathetic siege they have ever seen. Lothar and Black Walder Frey are trying to shame Bryndyn Tully into surrendering the castle by threatening to kill Lord Edmure. Having seen what the Blackfish thinks of his inept nephew at Hoster Tully’s funeral several years ago, we should not be surprised that he tells them to go ahead and do it. Jaime’s empty offer to spare the Tully men is no more effective, however. Riverrun is provisioned for two years, and the walls will ensure Tully losses in battle are a mere fraction of the losses the attacking force will suffer. We got to see Jaime cold-cock Black Walder with his golden hand, and Bronne got to deliver a penis joke and shut down Jaime's attempt to spit out the old axiom about Lannisters always paying their debts. But the principle reason for this rendezvous is to place Jaime at Riverrun when Brienne comes riding up next week, so they can be off on their next not-so-merry jaunt. Be patient, Stoneheart fans. If your wish is granted, her mangled visage could be the show's last shot to sustain us until next season.
Jon and Sansa
The Stark half siblings (hey, that’s what they are until Bran hies it back to the Tower of Joy to confirm the second-worst-kept secret in Westeros) learn that their heritage doesn’t carry the clout it once did in the North. Lyanna Mormont, the feisty ten-year old leader of Bear Island, notes that Jon is a Snow and Sansa is either a Bolton or a Lannister, depending on who is telling the tales. She is only swayed to honor her family’s thousand-year commitment to the Starks when Davos explains that he understands her fears since he has also been called to responsibilities he never thought he would have to confront. He tells her that the war against the Boltons is not only Sansa and Jon’s war, since the dead are coming, and unless the North is united before they arrive, there is no hope of defeating them. The prize for Davos’ smooth diplomacy: a mere sixty-two soldiers.
Even the free folk initially balk at Jon’s call for aid, until Tormund and Wun-Wun the giant agree to back him. Lord Glover is less agreeable, ancient pledges be damned. The Iron Born imprisoned his wife and children while he was off fighting for Robb, who broke his vow to Lord Frey by taking up with a foreign woman, causing many northern lords to be killed. Glover's refusal is cemented by word that the bulk of Jon’s army is made up of wildlings. Some of the other lesser houses contribute some soldiers, but fighting in the camp casts doubt on their cause. In secret Sansa pens a message, undoubtedly to Littlefinger. Since the Tullys appear otherwise occupied, the Men of the Vale will be needed. Like young Lady Mormont, Sansa is compelled to take action she would prefer not to take.
In King’s Landing the High Sparrow visits Queen Margaery first to creepily chide her for not doing her "duty" to return to Tommen’s marriage bed and give him an heir, then to convince her to bring her grandmother to the Faith. The cleverness of both characters raises the interest level of these audiences. Surely the Sparrow knows that Margaery’s piety is as phony as his own. Appearing to go about his bidding, Margaery meets Lady Olenna, with Septa Unella along as a kind of minder. Margaery insists that Loras must repent his sins and renounce his title. She convinces her grandmother to leave the city, pressing a piece of parchment into her palm so her stern chaperone won’t notice. In the foyer the Queen of Thorns opens the paper, which bears a hand-drawn rose. The representation of the Tyrell sigil lets Olenna know that her granddaughter is fighting for them, and that her newfound holiness is a subterfuge.
Armed with this knowledge, Olenna is making plans to leave the city when Cersei comes to urge an alliance to defeat the Sparrow and his Faith Militant. Olenna reminds Cersei that she caused the dilemma facing their houses by allowing the Faith to arm itself. She wonders aloud whether Cersei is the worst person she has ever met (Has she met Ramsay?) and reminds her that the city hates her, that Jaime is banished from the city, and that she has lost any power she might have once had. Cersei’s complete fall, she says, "is the only joy I could find in all this misery." Whether the Queen of Thorns is able to escape the city before being swept up in the maneuverings of the Sparrow will determine whether she, too, is brought low for her transgressions. She did support an attack on the Faith and remains a threat to the religious leader’s power play. Her plans will surely be waylaid.
In the midst of Theon and Yara's own escape from their murderous Uncle Euron, Yara and her crew lay over at a brothel. Theon (hmm, another broken man? I’m starting to think this series tends to ruin people.) is uncomfortable, and Yara orders him to either get on with it and slit his wrists or drink enough ale to lighten up. She says she wants his help, but it looks more like pity than anything else. As Theon is unable to defy her bullying commands to drink, the notion that he is broken beyond repair is only reinforced. As if to bring some importance to an otherwise throwaway nude scene, Yara reveals her scheme to beat Euron to Meereen, where she intends to ally with Daenerys to take the Iron Isles back. Maybe a brothel break was not the best use of their time, huh?
Various things about Arya’s scene in the streets of Braavos suggest that it was not what it seemed. When we last saw Arya she was bedding down fitfully in a dark place with Needle at her side. In this episode she struts casually through the market, tosses a bag of coins on a table to buy passage to Westeros, then tosses another to demand a cabin in lieu of the offered hammock in the cargo hold. Where did she get the sudden confidence? Where is Needle? Where did she get the coin? Only last week she confessed she had watched Lady Crane’s play three times without paying. After making an appointment to begin a voyage the next morning, she saunters about taking in the sights without a care in the world. This sudden change in demeanor and her carelessness when an old lady approaches crooning "sweet girl" suggest "Arya" may be someone else entirely. The crone, of course, is the Waif in disguise. She stabs Arya in the gut repeatedly, and when Arya hurls herself over a rail and into the bay, the Waif watches the water turn red and walks off with a self-satisfied smirk, believing she has carried out her death mission. Arya swims ashore and trails blood through the market while scads of Braavosi seem to judge her suspicious or untouchable or—at the least—beneath their concern.
So, was Arya really the victim? Was the murderous Disney-style crone really the Waif? Arya’s saunter, her swagger, and her swept-back hair suggest she may have been Jaqen H'ghar in disguise. But if that is the case, what do we make of her bloody walk through the market? Alternatively, did Arya enlist the help of her actor friends to fake the whole scene with pig’s blood, leaving a trail that will lead the killers to her lair, where she waits with Needle in the comfortable darkness she got used to when she was blind? Because the Waif was invisible to onlookers in one of the scenes where she beat Arya with the quarterstaff, some believe the Waif is the heartless half of Arya’s own nature that must conquer her past identity so she can truly become No One. Theories abound, which you can read here and here. The number of theories and the intensity of the debates this week bear testament to the power of the show to captivate viewers, even six and a half years in. Nobody theorizes that Arya will die of her wounds, though. If she does, two seasons in Braavos will have been completely pointless. Next week’s episode is titled "No One," so expect some clarity for Arya’s situation.
Sandor Clegane didn’t die of his wounds either, it turns out. Brother Ray thought he was dead when he came upon him since he smelled putrid and was crawling with bugs. Several more times in the days after finding him the septon believed the Hound would die. But he defied death and joined the commune of followers building a sept in the river lands. When the septon marvels that the man who brought the Hound down must have been a monster, Clegane ruefully admits that it was a woman who bested him. Foreshadowing events to come, he says he was kept going by hate. His scars, which seem more pronounced than in the past, remind us where his hate originated and suggest the purpose for which the gods have kept him alive. Despite finding some semblance of religion, the Hound still doubts the gods, wondering, "If they are real, why haven’t they punished me?" The septon replies, "They have."
Later while the septon is regaling his flock with the tale of his own sins, repentance and conversion, three brigands ride up to question the him about gold, steel and food that he and his followers may have. Brother Ray invites them to stay for dinner, but they ride off, announcing their allegiance to R’hllor by saying, "The night is dark and full of terrors." Later Clegane, saying the men were part of the Brotherhood without Banners, tries unsuccessfully to convince the holy man that he should be prepared to fight. The septon refuses, saying that violence only begets violence. Passivity begets slaughter, though. While Clegane is cutting wood, the brigands return to kill all the followers and hang Brother Ray. Thus ends the long-anticipated but brief appearance of Ian McShane. Sadly, he departed without delivering Septon Meribald's "broken man" speech, as many readers had hoped he would. (Seriously, whether you're a reader or not, check out the speech. Great stuff.) His quest to become a more peaceful man at an end, the Hound picks up his axe and stalks back into a life of violence and revenge. We all know where he’ll turn up by the end of the season.
Apart from Arya’s big scene (which appears to have been a "scene" indeed), episode 7 continues last week’s simmer toward the season’s climax. Look for genuine battles to break out in the coming weeks. Here is the trailer for episode 8. The eighth episode last year was "Hardhome," setting a very high standard for our expectations. Only three more episodes to go this year, and apparently only 16 total episodes of the show remain. Hard to fathom that. Soak it in while you can.
Scenes Not Seen
- Bran and Meera’s reverse march from the far North
- Tommen seeking counsel from Ser Pounce
- Daenerys delivering more battle cries from dragon back
- Jorah’s adventures in petrification
- Brienne and Pod’s pointless journey
- Anything in Dorne, which has happily ceased to exist
- Tyrion’s stand-up routine (I am standing!)
- The Red Woman. Either of them.